Pandemonium rocked Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital on Thursday as protesting staff damaged property, barricaded the hospital’s entrance, and denied visiting family members access to their loved ones.
The protesting staff members were demanding performance bonuses they claimed the hospital had not paid them from the 2016/17 and 2017/18 financial years as well as a double figure wage increase, not the current 7.5% being offered by hospital management.
Nehawu provincial chairperson, Lulamile Sibanda, said hospital management was negotiating with organised unions in bad faith and said that earlier calls for performance bonuses to be paid to workers fell on deaf ears. This led to the destructive protest seen on Thursday.
“As unions we met with workers yesterday and informed management of their demands, however management is only heeding the calls of workers now that they have embarked on an industrial action.
"Workers have been owed performance bonuses dating back to 2016. Every year since then management has been promising to pay this money to workers and not keeping to their word, hence the situation we are confronted by today,” said Sibanda.
Sibanda also reiterated that “workers were demanding a double digit increase in wages because the wages they were currently subjected to equated to “poverty wages”, especially with the increase in VAT.
National Union of Public Service Allied Workers regional chairperson, Sibusiso Nkasa, said unions had been engaged in negotiations with hospital management since 10am.
“This came after management found an unpleasant scene this morning with most workers engaged in protests. The pressing matter is that of the performance bonuses owed to workers that haven’t been paid to them since 2016.”
Nkasa and Sibanda both seemed optimistic about the outcome of the meeting saying management had informed the unions that in tomorrow’s provincial multilateral meeting, hospital management would table the issue of outstanding bonuses as the first motion.
“From the meeting with management today it is almost certain that the performance bonuses would be paid by June 3,” Sibanda assured the protesting workers to loud applause.
Patients bore most of the brunt as the staff members mostly made up of general assistants took leave of their duties and took part in the protests while the workers unions and hospital management were entangled in the protracted negotiations.
A Nehawu shop steward who asked to remain anonymous said a complement of skeleton staff was currently tending to patients.
“It’s unfortunate that matters had to come to this, at the moment only a few workers are assisting patients and even they are willing to stop working entirely if management refuses to come to the party.”
Among the complaints placed on the table by the workers unions was that entry-level salaries should be done away with as those salaries were “a joke and insult to working class South Africans”.
Gauteng Health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa condemned the protesting workers and said her department would be taking action against staff who vandalised parts of the hospital.
Sibanda however assured the protesting workers that the industrial action was lawful and should any charges be laid, they should be laid against the union’s leadership and not the workers.
Sibanda himself was shot with a rubber bullet. He was taking part in a strike by workers affiliated to workers’ union Nehawu last week at the same hospital after it turned violent and police fired rubber bullets.
Ramokgopa indicated that she would get to the hospital later this afternoon “to assess the situation and brief the media about the department’s position after reports that the facility has been trashed and shut down”.